Classic Carrot Cake Recipe (From Scratch)

Whether you are looking for a dessert for Easter dinner, an easy-to-make birthday cake or something sweet to serve on a party buffet, this classic carrot cake recipe made from scratch with cream cheese frosting is sure to be a hit. With options to make it with regular all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour, and with or without raisins and nuts, it is also easy to tailor to your taste.

Classic carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

As some of you may know, I am not much of a baker.

Most of the time, my cakes come from a box because they’re easy and I don’t have to worry about a cake fail ruining my dessert plans.

So when I run across a cake recipe I can make from scratch that turns out every time and tastes delicious, I tend to hang onto it.

This classic carrot cake recipe with cream cheese frosting is one of those.

Don’t let the number of steps throw you off.

It’s actually really easy, and makes a moist, cinnamon-y cake that everyone loves.

If you’re trying to cater to dietary restrictions, it even tastes good without the cream cheese icing (which would make it dairy-free) and gluten-free flour works just as well as regular flour.

Add in that it can be made a day ahead of time (one of my requirements for stress-free parties), and this classic carrot cake recipe is one of my all-time favorites!

Carrot cake as a layer cake

Carrot Cake Ingredients

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For The Cake

Here’s your shopping list for this classic carrot cake recipe:

  • eggs – you’ll need 4 of them
  • baking supplies: 1 cup white granulated sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda – you can substitute gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten-Free Flour*)
  • oil: 1 cup vegetable or canola oil – I don’t recommend using olive oil since it has a stronger flavor that can throw off the taste of the cake.
  • flavoring: 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • spices: 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • vegetables: 1/2 pound carrots – I use baby carrots since you don’t have to peel them. Avoid using pre-grated carrots that come in a package since they don’t have as much moisture in them and will make the cake too dry.
  • optional additions: 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts) – you can use one or both (or neither) of these without modifying the rest of the recipe.

For The Cream Cheese Icing

If you’re making the cream cheese frosting, this is what you’ll need:

  • dairy: 8-ounce package of cream cheese, 1 stick (1/2 cup) non-salted butter – salted butter will work but I think the icing tastes better with non-salted butter.
  • baking supplies: 1 pound (4 cups) of icing sugar (also known as confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar)
  • flavoring: 2 teaspoons vanilla

Equipment

  • pencil and parchment paper – if you are making cupcakes, use cupcake liners instead.
  • cake pan(s) – you can use 3 8″ square or circular pans, 2 9″ square or circular pans, a 9″ x 13″ rectangular pan, a 10″ tube or Bundt pan, or 24 cupcake tins
  • food processor with the grating attachment or a box grater
  • mixer with a mixing bowl – If you are using a stand mixer, you’ll need the whisk attachment instead of the regular beater
  • an additional mixing bowl
  • spatula
  • mixing spoon
  • cooling rack(s)

How To Make Classic Carrot Cake From Scratch

A piece of classic carrot cake on a fork

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Make The Pans Non-Stick

Cut out the parchment paper to fit the cake pan

Before we actually start making the cake, you’ll want to make sure the cake isn’t going to stick to the pans. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to get the cake out of the pans in one piece when they’re done baking.

The traditional way to do this is to grease the pans with a little oil, shortening or cooking spray. And then sprinkle a little flour over the bottom of the pan.

However, this method doesn’t always seem to work for me. And it can be a little messy to do.

So I prefer to use parchment paper.

To do this, put the cake pan onto a sheet of parchment paper and trace around the bottom with a pencil.

Then cut out the shape you just drew.

Try to stay a little inside the line so you don’t have pencil marks on the bottom of your cake 🙂

Then place the piece of parchment paper in the bottom of your cake pans. If you ended up with some pencil marks on the paper, put the paper in with the pencil marks facing down.

Grate the Carrots

Grating the carrots

If you are using full sized carrots, start by peeling them. (As I mentioned above, I like to use baby carrots since you don’t have to do this step.)

Then you will need to grate them.

The easiest way to do this is with a food processor that has a grating wheel or attachment.

But you can do it manually with a hand grater as well.

If you have a choice of grate sizes, pick the biggest hole size that doesn’t end up making chunks. Otherwise, you will end up with too much moisture coming out of the carrots when you grate them.

Combine The Liquids

Combine the eggs, sugar and oil

While I like to use a mixer for this part of the recipe, you can do it by hand if you prefer.

If you are using a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid), use the whisk attachment rather than the regular beater bar.

Start by beating the eggs until they are light and fluffy.

While you are continuing to beat, gradually add in the white granulated sugar.

Then gradually mix in the brown sugar.

Still while beating, slowly pour in the vegetable oil.

Finally mix in the vanilla.

Set this bowl aside.

Mix The Dry Ingredients

Dry ingredients in a bowl

In another mixing bowl, combine all of the rest of the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Since carrot cake is a fairly heavy cake, you can substitute gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour without changing the measurements. I use King Arthur’s Measure For Measure Gluten-Free Flour* and you really can’t taste the difference.

Combine Everything

Combine all the ingredients for the cake

Now we’re ready to combine all of the ingredients.

Note: We will be doing all of this stirring by hand with a spoon. The idea is to mix it as little as possible (just enough to get everything combined).

This is especially important if you are using regular (not gluten-free) flour. Mixing too much will cause the gluten to stiffen which will make the cake tough and chewy. (Do NOT use a mixer for this step).

Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients.

Mix with a spoon just until combined.

Then add in the carrots, raisins and nuts.

Having said that, both the raisins and the nuts are optional.

I think the cake has more flavor and texture with them included, but that is a personal choice. So feel free to leave one (or both) out if you don’t like them. (No other recipe modifications are needed).

Bake The Carrot Cake

Carrot cake batter in round cake pans

Pour the batter into your cake pan(s).

Now you’re ready to bake your carrot cake.

The amount of time you’ll need depends on the size of cake pans you’re using:

  • 8″ square or circular cake pans: 35 minutes
  • 9″ square or circular cake pans: 40 minutes
  • 9″ x 13″ rectangular cake pan: 50 minutes
  • 10″ tube or Bundt pan: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • 24 cupcakes: 25 to 30 minutes

How Do You Know When Carrot Cake Is Done?

Before taking the cake out of the oven, test it by inserting a wooden toothpick through the center of the cake.

It will come out clean when the cake is done.

Make sure to use the standard square-ish wooden toothpicks for this, not smooth, round or colored ones

The smooth toothpicks tend to come out clean even if the cake isn’t done.

Cool The Cake

Cooling the carrot cake on wire racks

When the cake is finished baking, put the pan(s) onto the cooling rack(s).

Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Then remove the cake from the pan(s) by:

  • running a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen it
  • putting your hand over the top of the cake to keep it from falling out (and falling apart)
  • then turning the pan over to dump the cake out
  • if you used parchment paper, peel it off the bottom of the cake

Put the cake (without the pans) back on the wire racks and let it cool completely.

Ice the Cake

When the cake is at room temperature, add some cream cheese icing (see the recipe below) if desired.

Make sure the cake is totally cooled before doing this or the icing will melt.

Classic carrot cake recipe with cream cheese icing in a sheet cake

The easiest way to ice a carrot cake is to make a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake.

Then you just need to pour all the icing over the top and smooth it out.

Classic carrot cake with cream cheese frosting as a layer cake

If you want an easy way to ice a layer cake, just put the frosting on top of the layers and leave the sides plain.

It still looks good, but it’s way easier and less messy than trying to ice the sides.

Make Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot cake frosting in a bowl

While this classic carrot cake recipe is pretty tasty all on its own, I think some fluffy cream cheese frosting makes it even better.

Make sure to take the butter and cream cheese out a couple of hours ahead of time so they can soften.

In a mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. About 3 minutes.

Mix in the vanilla.

Turn the mixer down to low speed.

Add 1/2 cup of the icing sugar.

Wait until it is completely mixed into the cream cheese before adding the next 1/2 cup.

Continue adding icing sugar in 1/2 cup increments until the icing is thick enough to stick to a spoon or spatula without running off. This usually takes 3 1/2 to 4 cups.

For more tips and details on making fluffy cream cheese frosting, click HERE.

How Many Days In Advance Can You Make Carrot Cake?

Pieces of carrot cake on square plates

Carrot cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (In fact, I think it tastes better the next day when the flavors have had a chance to blend more.)

Or in the freezer for 4 to 6 months.

Make sure to wrap it in foil or plastic wrap to keep it fresh.

And if you’re freezing, don’t put the cream cheese frosting on until after you’ve removed it from the freezer.

Does Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting Need To Be Refrigerated?

The short answer is Yes!

Since cream cheese is a dairy product, it needs to be refrigerated to keep it from going bad.

It also melts and loses it shape if it is kept out at room temperature for too long. Which doesn’t affect the taste, but your cake might not look as good.

Other Dessert Recipes You Might Like

Classic Carrot Cake Recipe (From Scratch)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Cooling Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 12 slices
Author: Wanda Simone
This classic carrot cake is an easy recipe that you can make from scratch even if you're not a baker.

Ingredients

Carrot Cake Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups grated carrots about 1/2 pound
  • 1/2 cup raisins optional
  • 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts optional

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) non-salted butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces (or 1 package) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 to 4 cups sifted icing sugar

Equipment

  • cake pan(s): 3- 8" cake pans, 2 - 9" cake pans, 1 - 9" x 13" rectangular cake pan, 1 - 10" tube or Bundt pan, or 24 cupcake tins
  • (optional) parchment paper and pencil
  • food processor with grating attachment or a hand grater
  • mixer and mixing bowl
  • another mixing bowl
  • cooling rack(s)
  • Spatula
  • mixing spoon

Instructions

How To Make Carrot Cake

  • Heat the oven to 350 F
  • Grease the cake pans or line the bottom with parchment paper
  • Peel and grate enough carrots to make 3 cups
  • Beat 4 eggs in the mixer on medium-high speed.
  • While continuing to mix, slowly add in 1 cup of white granulated sugar.
  • Then gradually add in 1 cup of brown sugar
  • Slowly pour in 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • Add in the vanilla
  • In another bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.
  • Add the dry ingredient mixture into the liquid mixture, and mix with a spoon until they are combined. (Do not use the mixer).
  • Add in 3 cups of grated carrots, 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup nuts (if using). Mix with a spoon just until combined.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pans.
  • Bake at 350 F for the following amount of time, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
    - 8" square or circular cake pans: 35 minutes
    - 9" square or circular cake pans: 40 minutes
    - 9" x 13" cake pan: 50 minutes
    - 10" tube or Bundt pan: 1 hour 15 minutes
    - 24 cupcakes: 25 to 30 minutes
  • Remove the cake pans from the oven and set on cooling racks for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Remove the cake from the pans and let cool completely on the wire racks.
  • When it has reached room temperature, frost with Cream Cheese Icing.

How To Make Cream Cheese Icing

  • Take butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator a couple of hours ahead of time to let them soften.
  • Beat the cream cheese and icing on medium-high speed until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Mix in the vanilla.
  • Change the mixer speed to low.
  • Add in 1/2 cup of the icing sugar and mix until it is combined.
  • Continue adding icing sugar in 1/2 cup increments until the frosting does not run off a spoon or spatula. This usually takes 3 to 4 cups.

Notes

  • Lining the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper is an easy way to make sure the cakes don't stick.
  • Using baby carrots will eliminate the need for peeling.
  • Avoid using pre-grated carrots since they will result in a cake that is too dry
  • If mixing the liquid ingredients with a stand mixer, use a whisk attachment instead of the regular beater for best results
  • Once the flour mixture has been added to the liquid ingredients, only mix by hand with a spoon to prevent the cake from turning out tough and chewy
  • Substitute King Arthur's Measure For Measure Gluten Free Flour if desired (no other recipe modifications necessary)
  • Make sure that the cake is completely cooled before icing it otherwise the frosting will melt
  • Carrot cake with frosting should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen without the frosting for up to 4 months.
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Classic carrot cake recipe (made from scratch)

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